It looks like Chris Cerf can finally drop the “acting” from his title as Education Commissioner. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted unanimously, 12 to 0, to approve his nomination.
Cerf is a Montclair resident who took an apartment in Montgomery Township, Somerset County, nine months ago after Essex County State Sen. Ron Rice used senatorial courtesy to put a near permanent block on the confirmation.
The very first question at the hearing — where do you live? — would prove to be the toughest.
With his wife and son looking on, Cerf told the senators he works 14 to 15 hours a day, and that after a medical episode involving eight hours of emergency open-heart surgery, he realized a few things.
“And I emerged from that committed to two things — one that I was going to spend the rest of my career devoted to improving public schools … and second, I was gonna try to take care of myself a little bit better,” Cerf said. “As part of that, driving for three hours a day … I decided that I was going to work out of a home closer to work, closer to Trenton.”
So he found an apartment near Rocky Hill, lives there during the week, he said, and goes home to Montclair on weekends. Committee Chairman Nick Scutari asked him about telling the Asbury Park Press in February he lives in Montclair and then correcting himself. Scutari said it didn’t put Cerf in a positive light.
“There are plenty of articles out there that don’t make me look good,” Cerf said. “I think that’s an occupational hazard.”
Cerf said the newspaper sensationalized a minor memory lapse. Scutari pressed him on having a state car and driver at his disposal. Cerf replied he has to pay taxes on that driver and so he doesn’t use him often.
Scutari seemed dissatisfied with the answers he was getting on residency. “You moved there for whatever reasons you wanted to move there, but I’m just really not buying the fact that you moved to Montgomery to be closer to Trenton,” he said. “When really you moved there so you could be in Sen. Bateman’s district. Whatever the reason is, I’m not saying that’s incorrect. I just don’t think that’s accurate.”
But Scutari voted yes, and the full Senate is expected to confirm the nomination this Monday.
Michael Aron reports from the Statehouse.